"To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy."
Quotes from The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
I have written previously about getting to know your own game better by studying your strengths and weaknesses, and how to use the same method to better understand your opponent in order to choose the best tactics to play against him.
But in this quick tip I'd like to focus on the second of Sun Tzu's quotes, and how we can apply it to table tennis.
Becoming Your EnemyIf one particular player or play style always gives you a lot of trouble, then it might be worth considering copying your opponent for a while to really understand his style's strengths and weaknesses.
Obviously I'm not recommending that you do this for long enough to affect your own natural style of play, but a few matches spread out over several training sessions should give you a deeper insight into what advantages and disadvantages your opponent has to deal with.
Personal Case Study:Several times in my table tennis career I have switched to playing a two wing looping style. When I switch to this style, I have a very good record against combination bat players and defensive players. Why is this?
Simply because after having played defensively with a combination bat myself for many years, I understand intimately the strengths and weaknesses of my opponents. I know exactly how tough it is to chop against a fast attack aimed straight at the right hip, and how easy it is to deal with heavy topspin balls with long pips, while it is much more difficult to handle the same topspin balls with the inverted rubber. I understand how the defensive player dislikes being caught at mid-depth, and I perhaps most of all I know almost exactly what my opponent's antispin or long pips rubbers will do against the different spins that I use.
Because I have played the same style as my opponent, using a racket with similar materials, I have in effect been my opponent in the past. This makes it much easier to know how to play to his weaknesses and avoid his strengths.
Similarly, those times I spent playing as a two wing looper have also made it easier for me to play against other two wing loopers when I use my normal combination bat defensive style. I know what I found difficult to handle when I was two wing looping against a good combination bat player, and I can use the same methods against my looping opponents when I go back to my defensive style.